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June 2003

Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Paddle blue inlets too new for any topo.

In Glacier Bay below the Fairweather Range, ice is disappearing so fast that cartographers can’t keep up. Where some maps show glaciers, only fjords remain; in other places, shallow straits have become portages. Hop in a sea kayak and you’re guaranteed to be one of the first to explore blue routes too new to appear on any topo.

As you paddle, consider that when Captain George Vancouver first sailed this coast in 1794, Glacier Bay wasn’t a bay at all; it was a single 20-mile wall of ice that lined the coast of Icy Strait, near Bartlett Cove. By the time John Muir visited in 1879, the ice had retreated 48 miles. And by 1916, Grand Pacific Glacier at the north end had withdrawn 65 miles into the narrow slot of Tarr Inlet. So much ice has melted here that scientists say the Earth’s crust is rebounding from the lifted weight, rising 1 to 2 inches higher each year.

Permits and bear canisters are required to cruise the bay, but the only reservations you’ll need are for kayak rentals (907-697-2257) or tour boat drop-offs (800-451-5952). The West Arm is closed to ships, offering the better wilderness experience. Whales, bears, mountain goats, and moose only add to the pioneering feel of a Glacier Bay trip.

Contact: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, (907) 697-2230; www.nps.gov/glba

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